Quakers and Unitarians call for a change to the Armed Forces Bill

By staff writers
April 17, 2011

Quakers and Unitarians say the Government has failed once more to address the right of young recruits to leave the Armed Forces.

“Human rights should not stop at the door of the barracks,” said Michael Bartlet, Parliamentary Liaison Secretary for Quakers in Britain. “At sixteen you are old enough to join the army yet too young to vote and still legally a child. The current law should respect their unconditional right to leave.”

Parliament’s Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill has now completed its scrutiny of the Bill and has done nothing to address the anomaly that requires junior soldiers to make longer commitments than those joining as adults. Sixteen-year-olds joining the Armed Forces are required to serve for six years while those joining at 18 are required to serve for four. After an initial six months they have no discharge as of right. Quakers and Unitarians are supporting an Amendment to the Armed Forces Bill to give those joining at 16 the right to leave at any time before their 18th birthday.

“Britain is now the only EU country to regularly recruit at the age of 16,” said Karen Hanley, Chair of the Unitarian Faith and Public Issues Commission. “We are concerned by press reports of young soldiers being bullied.” According to the Sun newspaper, in a recent case of extreme bullying, a 17-year-old soldier had his eyes ‘superglued’ shut as part of an initiation rite.

New facts have come to light during the Committee process of the Bill which have raised concern.
According to an MoD answer to a Parliamentary Question from Naomi Long, MP for East Belfast, five under 18-year-olds were serving sentences in the Military Corrective Training Centre, Colchester on 1 December 2010 for having gone absent without leave.

MoD figures also show that between 1 January 2002 and 21 February 2011, 535 UK service personnel died in Afghanistan or Iraq. Of these 125 (23 per cent) were under the age of twenty two.

There are currently 580 sixteen year olds and 1,970 seventeen year olds serving in the armed forces.

Between April 2007 and April 2010 three 17 year old service personnel have been deployed to Afghanistan and two to Iraq.

Writing in the Comment is Free section of the Guardian newspaper in March 2011, Michael Bartlet pointed out that the army stands in loco parentis to its under 18-year-olds.

"Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the army is obliged to consider the best interests of the child. Yet there is little independent oversight of this responsibility. For a young soldier to write to the children's rights commissioner would be bravery indeed" said Bartlet

"In enlisting in the army, recruits become subject to military discipline under subsidiary legislation made under the Army Act 1955. But how many teenagers read subsidiary legislation?" he asked.

Parliament’s Human Rights Committee has recommended raising the age of recruitment and safeguarding the rights of young people in the army. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200809/jtselect/jtrights/157/...


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